If someone doesn’t know what questions to ask, they’ll never get answer. If they don’t know Who The challenge is even greater when you ask. But an even worse error is to decide on an answer before even asking the question — and then refusing to hear any answers that don’t confirm what they’ve already decided.
America’s political class, especially the pundits and commentators, are guilty of all of these errors (and many more) as they continue to willfully not understand the Age of Trump and how America arrived at this democracy crisis. Because so many people, who should know better, continue to view simple questions in a puzzling and mysterious manner and ignore the obvious answers, the Republican-fascist movement continues to win.
Many such voices can be heard among the high priesthood the church of the savvy and the other professional smart people have concluded that the Republican Party is in the midst of a “civil war” or is in “disarray” in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidency. That’s not true: The Republican Party is “evolving” just as other fascist and authoritarian movements have historically done, largely by purging those who disagree with the Great Leader and his vision.
Many of the same voices also announce that Trump’s hold on the Republican-fascist Party and movement is weakening because of diminished attendance at his rallies, or because of rumors and “revelations” about internal resistance surrounding Trump’s coup plot of Jan. 6, 2021. These details and facts are important, but they do nothing to change the fundamental reality that Trump remains the leader of the Republican Party. He received millions of more votes in 2020 that he did in 2016, and he will be the presumptive Republican presidential candidate in 2024 until he changes his mind.
Republican voters and right-leaning independents continue to view Trump and what he represents as the identity and brand name of today’s Republican Party and “conservative” movement. Moreover, the 2024 election is more than two years away and traditional barometers of Trump’s popularity cannot be seen as reliably predictive.
But those questions pale compared to the grandest misreading of all: the claim that Trump and Trumpism led the Republican Party astray from its core values, and by doing so “sabotaged” it. The truth is quite different. Trump and his right-wing populist neofascist movement set free modern-day Republican leaders to embrace their antisocial/human, antidemocratic, reactionary. Trumpism didn’t just happen. ex nihilo It is now 2015, after at least 30 year of planning.
Ultimately, what America’s political class, the punditry and most of the mainstream news media refuse to understand is that Donald Trump is simultaneously a man, a symbol, and a cult-leader who embodies a form of freedom — specifically, the freedom to indulge in the worst aspects of human behavior and then to wallow in the chaos and pain and suffering that result. Trumpism, like other fascist forms, is exhilarating to followers and believers. It gives their lives purpose and meaning, and creates a sense community.
In a recent column, at Salona long-time White House reporter Brian Karem summarizes Trump’s hold over his followers and their devotion to him:
Trump has been a good sport as he has traveled the country to various rallies, selling trinkets and baubles to dazzle those with limited funds and simple minds. Buy a hat. Buy a shirt. Buy an ornament. Buy an autographed photo. Buy anything Trump is selling — probably up to and including autographed underwear.
Millions continue to support him with their cheap and tacky knickknacks. It makes me wonder how these homes look. “Come in. “Come in. Have a seat and a complimentary beverage out of our Trump lemonade pitcher, poured lovingly into a Trump autographed mug.”
Meanwhile, you can take a look at a phone video shot by Donald Trump Jr. inviting you to visit a “top secret” rally with his father — and, gosh, even get a chance to meet Dad! What is a top-secret rally? Isn’t that what the KKK used to do?
The following observation is no doubt a challenging concept for those still wedded to “normal politics” and other obsolescent ways of thinking: “Donald Trump” is of immense symbolic importance, but Donald Trump the human being barely even matters. As I explained in an earlier article essay for Salon, “Donald Trump is no longer a mere person. Indeed, to some extent the human being behind the Trump persona has become irrelevant.” In other words, Trump is integral to the American neofascist project — but he is also disposable and can be replaced as the situation demands.
Everything looks like a nail if you only have a hammer. For too many people in America’s political class and the news media, especially, the only lens available to interpret politics is through horserace-style coverage, centrism bias, outmoded notions of balance and fairness, questions about who has “coattails” and is piling up “endorsements,” and of course the results of public opinion polls and focus groups. This would be a psychological leap that could lead to epistemic collapse, as it would acknowledge that these tools and habits don’t have the same explanatory power they used to (not very recently).
Here are three examples of how strongly Donald Trump’s power endures, whatever the hope-peddlers, professional centrists and others among the commentariat would like us to believe:
1. Last week, the Republican Party announced that it would no longer participate at the 2024 presidential debates hosted annually by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.
Debates are an essential part of democracy and have played a crucial role in many elections. They are particularly important in helping low-information, independent, and relatively apolitical voters choose who to support. Participation in a discussion is an indication of your commitment to democratic norms. Debates also reinforce a shared belief that truth is independent of ideology and partisanship.
Fascists are against such consensus values, as are other authoritarians. The Republican Party chose to shield Donald Trump (or his successors), by rejecting the presidential elections and replacing them in some form of right-wing propaganda stage. Paul Waldman of the Washington Post This context was offered:
The Republican Party has just offered us a glimpse of the hell they’re going to put us all through in 2024. What might appear to be a petty argument about the conditions under which general election debates will or won’t be held is actually much more…. But it’s also a sign that the Republican strategy will again feature chaotic, Trumpian whining that is meant to delegitimize the entire presidential campaign process from start to finish, culminating in an attempt to take back the White House by theft if the voters don’t vote the “right” way.
Let’s remember that while Trump performed well in the 2016 primary debates when he was on stage with a collection of empty suits, he did poorly in every one of his debates with Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. By the fall of 2024, he’ll be 78 years old; the idea that he’ll be more disciplined and focused than he was in the past is far-fetched. In a debate, all that Americans dislike about him will be displayed in front of the largest audience possible.
If Republicans announce now, two-and-a-half years in advance, that they’re refusing to participate in the debates, it could save them a last-minute act of cowardice. But the more important reason they’re doing this is to reinforce the idea that every institution and practice associated with the presidential campaign must be considered corrupt and biased against Trump and therefore illegitimate, whether it’s the news media, the debates, maybe even the weather — and especially the vote counting.
2. Donald Trump and his fascist project are enjoying enthusiastic support from the Republicans.
We see this through growing support for the Jan. 6 coup attempt and the Capitol attack, the escalating assault on democracy and voting rights, the moral panic around “critical race theory”; anti-LGBTQ bigotry and related conspiracy theories, the campaign to roll back reproductive rights and freedoms, the assault on free speech and other fundamental civil and human rights, the war on reason and critical thinking, the Big Lie, and the support (covert or otherwise) for right-wing authoritarians such as Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán.
This is not a story of “top-down” politics, or elites otherwise imposing their values on a public. These policies and the values they represent are supported by the majority of Republican voters. Donald Trump is a skilled political entrepreneur. He understood that many millions of Americans long for fascism and other forms of authoritarian rule.
3. Trump is still a magnet for Republican leaders and candidates. They must bow before him and seek his blessing to gain power.
A recent article in the New York TimesShane Goldmacher describes how Trump continues his rule over the Republican Party as well as the larger neofascist movements from his Mar-a-Lago retreat.
For 15 months, a parade of supplicants — senators, governors, congressional leaders and Republican strivers of all stripes — have made the trek to pledge their loyalty and pitch their candidacies. Some have hired Mr. Trump’s advisers, hoping to gain an edge in seeking his endorsement. Some people have purchased ads that ran only in South Florida on Fox News. Some bear gifts; Others dish dirt. Almost everyone repeats his lie about the 2020 election being stolen.
Working from a large wooden desk reminiscent of the one he used in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump has transformed Mar-a-Lago’s old bridal suite into a shadow G.O.P. headquarters, amassing more than $120 million — a war chest more than double that of the Republican National Committee itself. …
While other presidents have retreated from the political stage, Trump has done the exact opposite. He aggressively pursues a vengeance agenda against Republicans who have wronged and has endorsed more than 140 candidates across the country. Trump will also be transforming the 2022 primaries in to a reality. a stress test of his continued sway. …
“Party leaders have never played the role that Trump is playing,” said Roger Stone, an on-and-off adviser to Mr. Trump since the 1980s who has been spotted at Mar-a-Lago of late. “Because he can — and he’s not bound by the conventional rules of politics.”
Goldmacher raises the question of whether Trump’s “big public profile” will be “a potent turnoff for swing voters” in the fall election, which remains to be seen. But in Republican primaries, “few serious candidates are openly breaking” with him. Former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn says Trump’s conquest of the party “has been so complete … that even the RINOs are attempting to talk MAGA.”
“Few see an expiration date” on Trump’s dominance of the Republican Party, Goldmacher concludes, “until and unless he declines to run again in 2024 or is defeated.” GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has reportedly told Trump, “We need you.”
Is that a picture of a fascist leader whose power has fallen? At this moment, he has a war fund of $120 million and an extensive right-wing disinformation machine. Donald Trump is the Republican Party. The fact that some members of the political and media classes read Goldmacher’s story as announcing the end of the Trump era only reflects the biased and distorted view of reality that led America to this ugly situation in the first place.
According to traditional Christian theology, the devil’s greatest trick was to convince the people of the world that he does not exist. Trump is perhaps a lesser demon. Don’t let Trump’s claim that he is not a threat fool you. If America’s political elites fall for that trick, it will likely mean the end of the country’s democracy.